Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Kicks and Bites

My horses are, generally, well behaved, polite fellows. Except sometimes....and someone....and that one happens to be the big bay Tucker who has an ATTITUDE. It could be his social status in the herd--second fiddle with aspirations of being alpha horse--or his Bold Ruler breeding, but he does think he should be in charge.

This is particularly true at feeding time or saddling time. I constantly have to watch is mouth in case he tries to take a bite, and his hind feet in case he tries to take a kick. While he has nipped me, he has never kicked me, but I consider any hind foot lifted off the ground when I am near his hind end a threat, so I am ever cautious.

In his small defense, I am sure he suffered from ulcers for quite some time and he did learn to be very defensive about being touched behind the girth--particularly on his right side--but he's been well treated for that, so I don't hold it as much of an excuse. Let us just say he is sensitive about his "space" and prefers life to run his way instead of any other.

When I feed him he will lay his ears back if I go back into the stall, and swish his hind end, shuffling his back feet, offering that threat to kick. If I make a move to adjust his blanket, he will "snake" his head an threaten to bite me. In essence, he treats me as another horse trying to take his food.

My response? Backatcha, baby.

I have always found the best answer to a threat to kick or bite, is a kick or bite back--sharp and first. The feed bucket is great for the "kick" part as a good, quick swat with the flat bottom makes a nice loud sound on his rump and doesn't hurt him one bit. His ears fly up to polite attention, and he plants both feet firmly on the ground after one quick step to move out of my way to give me the respectful space I deserve. The correction is my version of a kick, exactly as another horse would do to put him in his place. And Tucker accepts this as fair and warranted.

My response to his offer to bite is equally quick and needs nothing but my fingers. I use my hand, with my fingers stiff, to give him a "bite" any where I can reach. I developed this teachnique after a Kenny Harlow technique of grabbing and pinching the biting horse's nose--again as another horse might. While I like that method the best, Tuck, at nearly 17 h. can get his head too high too fast for me to reach said nose, so I find "biting" him anywhere does the job nearly as well.

In both cases, my responses to the bad behavior is similar to another horse's response, so I am doing the "horse whispering" thing by talking equine.

Please note that all my horses have been handled with the same consistent training and ground handling since I got them. I've owned Toby and Tucker since they were two years old and Chance since he was three, so there is no reason in his training background for Tucker's attitude. I am firmly convinced every horse has his own personality and temperament and there is very little we can do to change that. Tucker is the kind of horse ready, willing, and able to constantly challenge and test his limits and restrictions. He's the kid in class always trying to see just what he can get away with.

Like any good teacher, my job is to find the materials and methods to get across his lessons effectively. So far, so good.


  1. Oh dear. Recovering from surgery and disciplining a 17h hand horse? Take care of yourself.

  2. Anonymous11:45 AM

    My response to a bite or kick threat depends a lot on the horse. Some horses, like Dawn, who can be aggressive if left to their own devices, get "moved off" until I get ears up, or an "accidental" poke in the nose with a pointed finger. There are a couple who respond well to positive reinforcement - I actively praise and stroke them for not biting when they want to - both Misty and Charisma respond well to that. Charisma has gone from being one of those horses who would bite whenever you did anything with her - my major interaction is blanketing - and who now stands quietly - she's a praise sponge and also is a horse who becomes more aggressive if you get aggressive with her. So different strokes for different horses.

  3. Well I am coming to give you an NH answer. Biting and kicking are just symptons. The cause is simply a lack of respect. As you wrote, he treats you like another horse, and he plays dominance game.
    A Frecnh scientist studies horses and she mentioned that adult horses play at least 1 hour everyday of dominance game.

    I ignore pinned ears and lifted legs for most of the time, I asked the horse to move his feet. I won, he/she lost.

    For feeding time, depending the horse I will use, the scoop/bucket and for Lucky a TB-cross a carrot stick with a plastic bad a the end, because he has some Rottweiler in his breeding. I make them stand away from the manger, then pour feed in the manger, then keep them away until they show a signs of submission/relaxation :
    -cocking a hind leg,
    -lowering head nad neck,
    -licking and chewing,

    Then I let them come to the manger with good attitude, any ears pinning, I send them away and wait for submission/relaxation.
    Then I let them come, if good attitude.

    You can see I have practised with my big bully of 17HH1/2 warmblood mare, and that one of my chores is to feed horses at lucnh time ;-)

    One mistake people make is to give up too soon. The horse must almost forget about eating.
    the second is that when they let them come, the horse has a bad attitude.

    It might take from one to three send away before having a good attitude.

    IMO it is important, it is table manners. Plus our horses are well-fed, they have no reasons to behave like starved-neglected beasts. because they are NOT.

    Time to teach some manners to your boy, I know he is your favourite, but I am sure you would never have left your students disrepect you.

  4. Sounds to me like you have the situation well under control. I think some horses will always test boundaries and I also think that those horses are the most fun to work with. Maybe it's because I have a bit of that personality in me, as well. Birds of they say. *G*

  5. Tucker sounds like my Dusty at feeding time. She's learned to stop pinning her ears or she doesn't get fed until her ears are up and she stops being a little witch. I like your methods, and I say whatever works with any particular horse is the best way to go.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!